Yelp reviews – The silent killer of small businesses?

This will probably be a controversial topic for some but it is one I have been wanting to write about for a while now. And that is the nature of how Yelp reviews work. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to bash Yelp but I want to point out some very big flaws in how their system works. And how it can be a silent killer for small businesses.

The reason I focus on small businesses is that I have worked for both sides of the spectrum. Big corporations in my experience seem to just blaze past Yelp and almost just ignore it. Which actually does work… As long as you hold that top ad placement in AdWords Yelp isn’t going to hurt you as much. But that also costs money.

Not all small businesses have thousands of dollars to throw at AdWords every month, putting them in a situation where they have to rely a lot on organic traffic in SERPs.

1. Getting reviews for Yelp is hard

After a year or so of trying different review strategies, I can genuinely say I finally have a pretty good system in place with GetFiveStars. If you haven’t heard of it, I definitely recommend reading my review on GetFiveStars. It really does put your collection of reviews on autopilot. And I’m not talking about creating fictitious reviews, I am talking about perfect the funnel of collecting reviews for Google+, Facebook, Citysearch, etc., to almost perfection.

But here is where Yelp has its first hiccup. Yelp, unlike any other review site doesn’t allow you to ask for reviews on a public facing web page. What do they allow? They allow you to put your badge/widget up on display which links to your Yelp profile. However the biggest widget they have is one that shows how many stars you have. And well… lets just say that could do more harm then good.

yelp widget

The other ones you are left with are these, which are so small they are pretty much worthless in my opinion.

yelp widgets

So at that point you are pretty much left with word of mouth asking for Yelp reviews (which technically you aren’t allowed to do either) or someone hitting your Yelp page in SERPs. But let’s be honest, most people searching for your specific Yelp page are probably people that are going to leave a negative review.

2. Getting reviews that stick for Yelp is even harder

If you get your customer past the 1st problem then you have an entire new problem to worry about. And that is if that person has ever used Yelp before. Yelp’s automated filtering software will try and determine if that person’s account is an established account. Basically they need to have left 3-5 reviews for them to start actually showing up. That means even if your customer leaves you a positive Yelp review, unless they have used Yelp 3-5 times in the past their review is never going to show up.

3. Your niche definitely matters

The niche of your business can make getting reviews even harder! For example, I work in the medical field and most of our demographic is 40 or older. Yes that demographic is now using Facebook. My Dad uses Facebook all the time now, but do they use Yelp? Unfortunately from my experience they don’t. That demographic seems to use Facebook reviews 1st as it is simply easier and quicker to access.

Now if we dive into the restaurant niche and this could be totally different. There are a lot of restaurateurs that seem to use Yelp. That’s really how Yelp gained its momentum, to begin with, was from restaurant reviews. In fact, even my personal Yelp account is just reviews of restaurants. While this will definitely increase the volume of your Yelp reviews for your business, you better be sure you are providing the best service possible or this as well could backfire on you.

Here is a pretty good article showing some small businesses that have taken a serious hit: Yelp filtered reviews blues.

Companies, whether they like it or not, must face the reality that their Yelp profiles are often the first thing potential customers see. If it’s a low-rated page, it might also be the last. With limited resources — and often scant computer know-how — many small-business owners would just as soon opt out of the whole thing, except Yelp doesn’t allow that.

So what can you do?

This is definitely a tough one. Because Yelp makes it hard to collect the review in the first place and then you are met with a second obstacle because unless they have an established account you will never see it. When it comes to Yelp you are really left with no option other than making sure you are providing the best possible customer service for every single customer. And yes that is what you should always be striving for, but it makes it even harder when the Yelp review process is so difficult to get through. Also as a marketer you don’t always have control over the entire business. You probably don’t even interact with the customer to begin with!

One small thing you can do that seems to help is to recommend your positive reviews.

Step 1

Login to your business Yelp account and scroll down to the bottom. You will see some grey text of all the filtered reviews. Click into that.

not recommended reviews

Step 2

Go through and click into your positive reviews that have been filtered. Then add a recommendation to the review. Such as saying it was useful. I have seem in some instances this bring the review back out of the filter.

recommend yelp review

One thing to make note of is that their review system is not static. See what Marvin from Yelp says…

We try to showcase the most helpful and reliable reviews among the millions that are submitted to the site. Unfortunately not all reviews make the cut, even some legitimate ones. As our review filter is automated, we can’t manually restore a review that has been filtered. However it’s worth noting that the system isn’t static. It does what it can with the information at hand, and regularly revisits each review as it learns more. As a result, filtered reviews can find their way back onto business profile pages and vice versa.

Whatever you do though don’t be discouraged because you could never top Crazy Amy’s Baking Company! (Which ironically is 10 minutes from my house)

And Yelp, if you reach out to me to take this review down, it might get filtered in my inbox.


What are your thoughts on Yelp? Are you a small business owner? I would love to hear your thoughts below.

author bio
Brian Jackson

I craft actionable content and develop performance-driven WordPress plugins. Connect on X, subscribe to my newsletter (once a month), or buy me coffee.

8 thoughts on “Yelp reviews – The silent killer of small businesses?”

  1. Hey Brian,

    I think Yelp is seriously flawed. You nailed it right on the head here! I mean it just looks like a place where people just moan about different companies. For instance, unless your a local business it’s so hard to deal with Yelp. InMotion a company that I support 100% has horrible ratings on Yelp. However, nearly everywhere else you look on the net they get great ratings any and everywhere.

    From a SEO standpoint I guess they are great, but if people want to rip your company to shreds they do it all the time on Yelp. Is there any point to using Yelp unless your just a local business?

    • Thanks for your comment! I totally agree. Funny ya because I fully support InMotion Hosting as well. In fact it is the only low budget host that I recommend. Their speeds are amazing and support is great. Also do I need to mention EIG?

      I am glad with my new job that I no longer have to deal with Yelp. It can really make or break a local business. And they totally filter legitimate reviews, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of a review system.

      • Don’t get me started about EIG. I have been watching them tank good host for years! One example, is I used to host with Hostgator, but no longer do because of the way EIG changed them.

  2. The Yelp System is seriously broken, and is destroying small businesses. I had a Yelp representative threaten me 3 years ago saying that if we didn’t pay the monthly fee for their services then “wait and see the reviews we get”. Out of the 7 reviews we have, they posted a bad review from someone that doesn’t even sound like he came to my business. They posted 2 good reviews. And will not post the other 4 good reviews because they are not reliable. It sucks because these 4 customers took time to write great things and give examples to prove they are customers. They even included pictures to show they were there. At this point I go to Facebook for reviews because I see what Yelp is doing, but people that do not own businesses might not realize that. And then to add salt to the wound, Yelp representatives call weekly trying to get you to buy their marketing products from them. I want to tell them they did enough damage, why would I want to give them money?!

  3. Yelp is a flawed system which is why I do not trust yelp. I have seen many fake reviews stick in their algorithm, yet the positive yelp reviews get hidden. I have seen many reviews that violate yelp policy but they still remain in with the rest of the reviews. There alogorythym is just that, a computer program that does not value real customer reviews. If a business or a yelp reviewer complains about a review they should have someone look at the reviews from the company manually and decide which is real and which is fake. The system should change whereby the reviewer is verified by a mobile phone they r using. This way the reviews would be more legitamite.

  4. Agreed!! YELP HURTS SMALL BUSINESSES. They are aggressive with the phone calls and even if you clearly say that you are not interested about their website or their advertising plans and then you hang up the phone that people are like a pest because they will keep calling more than twice the same day until you got really mad. So that being said Yelp is the worst thing that ever happened to small businesses because they will remove your well earned reviews, and that’s when you realize this is a scam, and there’s no way to counteract this disadvantage. DON’T FILTER THE REVIEWS, LEAVE THEM ALL, GOOD AND BAD REVIEWS. Agreed about how big businesses are less likely to have to rely on Yelp reviews as people know who they are. But small businesses may live and die by Yelp reviews. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and provide most of the jobs, so if they go under because of misleading Yelp reviews isn’t the overall economy the one that ultimately suffers?

  5. We experienced the same thing as a small business. What brought me here today is I sat down with a friend for dinner who said toward the end of the meal “so your business is going to stay open?” and I said yes of course! And she said I had read all those bad reviews and I was worried that you were not doing well. I was like, what are you talking about? Of almost 80 reviews we are mostly 5 star. Yes, we have a couple crazies in there like “I love the food but I am not coming back because the big fish in their tank was picking on the small fish- they will probably be dead in a month!!” – They have been happy swimming together for years! And “give me a free add-on or I will give you a bad review!”- and he did! You take the good with the bad.

    But I realized this might be retaliation for me cancelling an ad that I had placed under pressure from all their harassing calls. I finally broke down and did it and I did not realize it was going to START at about $400/mo. All that happened was more clicks- I did not see a correlation to business increase. After I cancelled the phone calls did stop but it looks like people are not seeing the good with the bad reviews.

    Another problem is having to pay to see your most recent photos! Yelp displays only photos from when we first opened- all our furniture is different and our menu has grown. Our photography has improved too. But you would have to scroll many pages to see the newest pics.


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